Remarks by Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan Roman Vassilenko at the Italian Society for International Organizations
Rome, March 28, 2019
Central Asia and the Regional Stability: The Strategic Role of Kazakhstan
Dear President Frattini,
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen!
First of all, I would like to thank you, President Frattini, for organizing this important and timely event. We highly appreciate your efforts over many years to enhance bilateral cooperation between our countries.
There could hardly be a more opportune time to talk about our region and the developments taking place within it. Over the past two years, Central Asia has been living through a new dawn in the relations among all five countries. This has been a transformative moment filled with great hope and promise for what else can be achieved as we work together.
As many guests will be aware, wide spread changes are taking place across the region. At the same time, the escalation of tensions in many parts of the world, including within the immediate vicinity of Central Asia's borders, has turned our region into one of the frontlines in countering major threats to international security.
In today's fast-paced and highly connected world, several regional problems still require prompt and effective action. Such challenges include sharing the resources of trans-boundary rivers, acute environmental issues such as the melting of glacial ice, combating threats to the security of our region from terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking, the expansion of transport and communications links, along with many others.
However, as recent high-level talks have shown, there is a renewed desire to work together to jointly resolve these issues at a regional level. I am confident that in doing so, the countries of Central Asia will produce lasting results that will be agreeable to all parties, benefit our peoples, and deliver sustainable development to local economies.
Unlike for many countries in Europe, forecasts for Central Asia unanimously predict a rapid expansion of the population in all five nations. The combined population of Central Asia is expected to boom from 60 million people today to 90 million people by 2030.
With such a growth rate, modern challenges, especially relating to limited natural resources, will only become more acute. These challenges will undoubtedly be felt most by those who have least. They demand common, sustained action not just by the countries of the region, but also by those beyond, including the European Union. And here we will not only seek to work together, but we will also work with outside partners, including the EU which is set to adopt its new Strategy for Central Asia later this spring.
For almost three decades, the European Union has been one of the key foreign policy, trade, economic and investment partners for the region, a valuable intermediary and an active donor in critical development projects. And that role will be critical going forward.
According to leading scholars, such as Kishore Mahbubani of Lee Kuan Yew University and Peter Frankopan of Oxford University, among many others, this century looks set to be Asia's century. The expanding economic might of countries such as China and India, not to mention South Korea and the other so-called Asian Tigers will act as a strong catalyst for wider regional growth. The gravity of global economic development and progress will continue to shift from west to east. Such fundamental change will be transformative to global affairs. And it has the potential to bring benefits not just to Central Asia but also to Europe.
Kazakhstan is a key part of this modern story. It lies at the strategic heart of vital trade routes connecting East and West, North and South, and will play a pivotal role in this growing economic shift from West to East. We are at the heart of Eurasia, and, if many contemporary strategists and historians are to be believed, Central Asia is at the heart of the world. The future and prosperity of global development will largely depend on what happens in our wider region, stretching from the edge of Europe, through to the Middle East and as far as China.
Kazakhstan, the world's largest landlocked country, has long developed globalized policies to leverage our unique geographical position. To borrow a phrase from one of our eminent diplomats, former Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov, we seek to turn our land-lockedness into land-linkedness. Two of the most notable examples were the proposal by President Nazarbayev to create the Eurasian Economic Union – a common marketplace of 180 million consumers – as well as the wide-ranging 24-billion-dollar Nurly Zhol domestic infrastructure development program. Both of these initiatives have provided soft and hard infrastructure for the recreation of east-west transport corridors and our participation in the recreation of the great Silk Roads of the past.
Our global worldview has also meant that we have wholeheartedly embraced the many initiatives aimed at reconnecting the economies of East and West through Central Asia. The revival of the ancient Silk Road through China's Belt and Road Initiative is first among them.
Since our independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has always pursued the strategic course set out by First President Nazarbayev, to strengthen our time-tested multi-vector foreign policy. Thanks to this, the people of Kazakhstan have benefited from peace and prosperity for almost three decades.
As the ninth largest country in the world and the largest economy in Central Asia, we generate 60% of the region's GDP. We take great interest in the stable and prosperous development of our nearest neighbours, the strengthening of mutual trust, and recognition of common interests. We firmly believe that regional security can only be achieved when every country is politically, economically and socially stable and prosperous.
As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2017-2018, Kazakhstan actively promoted the common interests of the Central Asian states, advanced issues that were critical to the successful and secure development of the region. Such issues included combating terrorism and extremism, tackling drugs and organized crime, further institutionalization of the Central Asian nuclear weapon free zone, ensuring border security, and fighting illegal migration.
In practical terms, this requires even greater engagement between all sides at every level. We must continue to search for new areas in which to develop closer interaction, expand opportunities for greater trade growth and mutual investment, and develop systems which support and streamline the greater movement of services and labour.
We are proud of the recent progress which has been made and the significant expansion of cooperation in the areas of trade and commerce, as well as greater interactions among citizens.
The expansion of positive regional relations led to the first consultative meeting of the leaders of the Central Asian states in our capital in March 2018. Following the meeting, the leaders agreed to coordinate efforts to protect regional security, fight terrorism and combat drug and human trafficking. The next consultative meeting of the leaders of Central Asia is due to take place in 2019 in Tashkent.
One of the main multilateral events that took place last summer was the 5th Summit of the Caspian Littoral States in Aktau, Kazakhstan. The Summit concluded with the signing of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. This document will give new impetus to the Caspian states' cooperation and will become a guarantor of regional security, stability, and prosperity.
Last August, the President of Kazakhstan also travelled to Turkmenistan to attend the Summit of the Heads of Founding States of the International Fund for the salvation of the Aral Sea (IFAS), where he met with his regional counterparts to discuss the need to consolidate efforts to address environmental challenges stemming from the Aral Sea basin.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Like many of you, we are concerned about the renewed growth of extremist organizations such as ISIL and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and the potential return of Foreign Terrorism Fighters (FTF) from Syria and Iraq to their countries of origin, including potentially to Central Asia. We are committed to taking concrete steps to advance the counter-terrorism agenda globally, regionally and nationally to help tackle this global challenge.
In this case, Kazakhstan calls on all countries to adopt within the UN of the Code of Conduct to reinvigorate our collective commitments to end terrorism by 2045, the UN's centenary. We hope we can count on the support of the UN Security Council and all UN member states to advocate for this worthy cause. As of today, 78 countries have signed the Code of Conduct initiated by Kazakhstan and personally by President Nazarbayev.
During our membership of the UNSC, Kazakhstan used that platform to actively promote the interests of all countries of our region, including Afghanistan. For the first time in seven years, we organized a visit for Security Council members to Afghanistan. This gave UNSC members a greater understanding of the situation on the ground and enabled them to hold meetings with the country's leadership, business representatives and NGOs.
In addition, we organized an important ministerial-level debate at the Security Council under the title Building Regional Partnerships in Afghanistan and Central Asia as a Model to Link Security and Development. Central Asian foreign ministers and a deputy foreign minister of Afghanistan participated in this debate.
Kazakhstan's seat on the UNSC helped the international community to develop a positive understanding of the integration processes in Central Asia. It gave greater recognition to the key role played by countries of the region in Afghanistan's economic re-development and their joint efforts to build peace in the country. These efforts helped the UNSC adopt an official Security Council document drafted by Kazakhstan on the situation in Central Asia and Afghanistan.
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen!
Let me now turn to our bilateral relations with this country.
Italy is one of Kazakhstan's most important strategic partners.
We are going to celebrate the 27th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in August 2019. This year also marks 10 years since the signing of the Treaty on Strategic Partnership between our countries in November 2009.
Today, Kazakhstan and Italy continue to develop a robust political dialogue, engage across a range of multifaceted economic and cultural areas, and continue to build contacts at the interregional level. We have established trusting relationships thanks to our joint work across many international organizations such as the UN, OSCE and others.
Kazakhstan and Italy share many similar positions on key international issues including those dominating the UN Security Council agenda. Our two countries served on the UNSC together for one year during Kazakhstan's two-year term.
The extensive cooperation within the OSCE is one of the most important priorities for our country. The OSCE Ministerial Council in Milan in December 2018 allowed us to work out solutions to further strengthen the authority and increase the effectiveness of the OSCE.
Meetings between the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan and Italy allowed both sides to discuss bilateral and multilateral key issues.
As I have already mentioned, Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world. More than 80% of our land, 220 million hectares, is used for agricultural production, making Kazakhstan the 5th biggest exporter of wheat globally.
Italy is one of the biggest importers of Kazakh durum wheat in Europe, 51% of total exports to the European Union goes straight to Italy. Last year Italians purchased almost 260,000 tonnes of durum wheat worth approximately USD 53 million.
Italy is also the second largest trading partner of Kazakhstan, ranking first among EU countries in terms of foreign trade and is one of the largest investors in our economy.
I want to emphasize the positive experience of Italian investments in Kazakhstan. Today, there are 164 joint ventures with Italian participation in Kazakhstan across a range of key sectors. There are successfully implemented investment projects in mechanical engineering, light industry, construction, mining and metallurgy. I would like to highlight two of the more recent excellent examples.
The ENI company is implementing a project for the construction of a shipbuilding and ship repair plant in Kuryk port (Mangystau region, worth USD 273.5 million).
Elsewhere, the company Inalca (Cremonini) is developing a project for the construction of feed yard with the production of processed meat products (worth USD 115 million).
Undoubtedly, much more can be achieved and there are many more opportunities for the further development of economic cooperation. We continue to welcome Italian investments in the economy of our country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stands ready to support Italian businesses considering investing and doing business in Kazakhstan.
As many of you will be aware, Kazakhstan successfully hosted the exhibition EXPO 2017 devoted to energy of the future, where many Italian companies played an active part.
Let me talk about two important initiatives for Kazakhstan which have a regional connotation as well.
The Astana International Financial Centre was established on the site of Astana EXPO. The AIFC is unique in the region as it is governed by English common law, and has its own independent Arbitration Centre where English is the working language. Businesses who operate within the AIFC are granted tax benefits for 50 years, and benefit from simplified monetary, visa, and legal regimes.
The independent judiciary and international arbitration centre guarantee fairness and protection for participating parties and ensure companies can operate within a system used in many leading jurisdictions.
The aim of the AIFC is for Kazakhstan to become the leading regional centre for the development of green investments, Islamic finance and other innovative financial instruments. Work is actively on-going to issue infrastructure and environmental bonds within the AIFC. Over time it will become the driver not just of Kazakhstan's economy but also that of the wider region.
The AIFC, as one of the most attractive FinTech jurisdictions in our region, has proved itself as an effective mechanism for attracting investment in the country's economy.
Kazakhstan's accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is one of the priority tasks of our Government. First President Nazarbayev announced ambitious state initiatives aimed at ensuring our country's standards mirror those of the (OECD). Our country is committed to taking the necessary steps to ensure full membership of this group of the most developed countries in the world.
Today, Kazakhstan is represented in 35 structures of the OECD, and currently, the Kazakh government is developing a step-by-step program to ensure compliance of Kazakhstan with the remaining standards of the Organization's members.
To further coordinate work on cooperation with the OECD, an Action Plan was approved by the OECD Interaction Council in 2018. This covers three main areas: 1) participation in high-level OECD events; 2) monitoring the implementation of new Reviews; 3) accession to legal instruments and interaction with OECD committees.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
As you are no doubt aware, on March 19, the First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev announced his resignation from presidential office. In line with the Constitution, presidential duties were transferred to the Chairman of the Senate, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev who assumed those on March 20.
The First President explained his decision to step down came at a time when the world is changing and bringing not only opportunities, but technological and demographic challenges, which calls for a new generation to step forward with new solutions.
Nursultan Nazarbayev said the challenge of his term was to build a market economy, dismantle the totalitarian system left behind by the Soviet Union, and modernise the institutions of society, all three at the same time.
The First President interpreted his new task as ensuring the continuation of the transformation which had begun in Kazakhstan. He said the future of Kazakhstan must be one of “a country with a strong economy, the best education and healthcare, where citizens are free and equal, where power is just and where there is a strong rule of law."
President Tokayev, in his first speech in office, confirmed that the strategic mission of the First President, both at home and abroad, would continue.
Kazakhstan has been and will continue to be a constructive partner for the region and the outside players in ensuring peace, stability and sustainable development in Central Asia and globally.
Thank you all for your attention.